Fresh of its 34-0 home victory over visiting Loras College on Saturday, the Buena Vista football team is now focused on putting a string of wins together to close out the year, beginning this weekend when the Beavers square off with Luther College in a 1:00pm contest.
BVU, which had suffered a handful of close, tough defeats to start the year, finally broke through in convincing fashion against the Duhawks, getting a career-high 131 yards and two touchdowns from sophomore Cody Cole, as well as 115 yards on six catches and two touchdowns from fellow sophomore Jalen Henningsen.
"I thought we executed well in all three phases on Saturday," says head coach Jay Anderson. "Very pleased with the effort the guys put forth. We controlled the line of scrimmage and executed efficiently."
BVU will oppose a Luther team searching to end a three-game losing skid after topping Loras College, 41-7, to open its Iowa Conference schedule. Two of those three losses, however, have come by a combined 13 points, including a 22-12 setback at Central College on Saturday. Prior to that, it was edged 24-21 at home to Wartburg College.
It'll be a match-up of two tough defenses that rank third and fourth in the league during conference play in total defense. BVU, which is allowing just more than 300 yards of total offense in those games, comes into Saturday's matched having allowed a combined total of 351 yards the last two weeks.
A great deal of that success has been the result of being able to stop the run. Last week against Loras, it held Nate Carrier, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards a season ago as a freshman, including better than 200 yards against BVU, to a season-low 40 yards on 14 carries. Only Central (129.0ypg) is allowing fewer rushing yards per outing in conference play than the Beavers' 129.5.
"Our rush defense has made great strides," Anderson adds. "These last two teams rely heavily on the run as part of their offense, and our guys have gotten better and really slowed them both down. That in return leads to more sack opportunities, and we were able to pick up a few more of those on Saturday than we have all year."
Luther, meanwhile, brings into play the league's top rushing offense. Against IIAC foes, the Norse are averaging better than 276 yards per contest on the ground, nearly 70 more than Wartburg which is second. Josh Vos leads the attack by averaging 71.8 yards per contest. He's also rushed for five scores.
Quarterback JJ Sirios is next at 44.7 rushing yards per outing for the year and also has the team's second-longest run from scrimmage (52 yards).
"Luther's put in a few new schemes offensively this season, and I think they've made great progress with those," says Anderson. "They can be a quick hitting team, so we have to attack them and not let them chip away with the four and five yard gains."
The Norse are a run-heavy team as they have attempted only 51 passes for on the year. Sirios is 17-of-31 overall for 235 yards and three touchdowns, while throwing the team's only interception.
The Beavers will rely on their experienced corps of linebackers to find the gap and make the stops at the line of scrimmage. Brady Randall, who had seven total stops, including four for a loss against Loras, leads the team in tackles this season with 52. Strong safety Kyle Arnold is next at 48 with linebackers Tanner Collins and Derek Schwartz next at 41 and 40, respectively. That group also has a combined 13 tackles for loss on the year and has also forced two fumbles.
Matt Schmidt leads a defensive line with his five tackles for loss this season and has a team-high three sacks.
On the flip-side, Luther brings in the second-worst rushing defense in league play, allowing better than 163 yards per contest, but has posted the second-best pass defense to this point, allowing conference foes to pass for only 150.5 yards.
Cole made his first career start against Loras, filling in for Dylan Barrett, who had suffered an injury the week before at Central. He scored the final two touchdowns of the afternoon to cap-off the first 100-yard rushing performance for BVU this season. Barrett, who could be back in the line-up for Saturday's match-up has nearly 500 yards rushing on the year with one touchdown.
The Beavers come in ranked third in passing offense this season, chalking up 237.5 yards per outing in four league contests. Quarterback Bobby Brown has thrown for 950 yards in those four contests with seven touchdowns and only three interceptions. With his two touchdown strikes to Henningsen last week, he has matched his career-high with 11 TD passes for the year.
Henningsen, meanwhile, is second on the team with 25 catches overall for 377 yards. He trails only Adam Cave, who is the top pass-catcher in the conference during league play, hauling in an average of 6.5 per game. He's second in receiving yards per contest (87.0). Ben Seitz has 10 catches in IIAC games and ranks 10th in yards per game (44.5).
Anderson was extremely pleased with the play of the offensive line even with some adjustments made for the game because of injuries.
"I thought Michael Davidson stepped in and did a fantastic job," he says. "He's earned the right to get in there and get more snaps, even when we're healthy and at full strength. That's a bonus for us to have the depth up front where we can rotate guys in-and-out if needed."
Aric Elton and Matt Larson have helped lead the way defensively for Luther all season, posting 65 and 62 tackles, respectively. Elton also has a team-high seven tackles for a loss, to go along with a sack, interception and forced fumble. Cody Berger has a team-leading three interceptions, as Eric Pittman has six pass break-ups and seven passes defended.
Saturday's meeting is the 68th all-time between the two teams. BVU's 14-7 win in Storm Lake last season snapped the team's five-game losing streak to the Norse. The Beavers are looking for their second straight win over Luther for the first time since taking nine straight from 1998-2006. The last nine match-ups overall between the two sides have all been decided by a touchdown or less.
"We just need to go out and play sound football," says Anderson. "Execution will be key offensively, and defensively we need to attack them and tackle well. Most importantly, we need to simply take advantage of the opportunities we get."
Saturday's game can be heard locally on 97.5FM BVU. A link to live broadcasts can be found by going to www.bvuathletics.com.